Sage is a hardy, erect, perennial that grows to around 35 in. (90 cm) tall with wiry, green and purple-hued stems and a base that becomes woody over two or three years. Sage leaves are about 3 in. (8 cm) long and in. (12 mm) wide, gray-green, rough yet downy and pebbly-textured on top. The underneath is deeply veined and filigreed like an opaque cicada's wing. As the leaves mature and harden their greenness turns to a soft, silvery gray Long sterns bear the purple, lipped flowers in autumn, a natural attraction to bees, which produce a much-valued sage honey in sage's native Dalmatia on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Sage has a high pungency level similar to that of rosemary and thyme with an aroma that is fresh, head clearing and balsamic. The flavor is herbaceous, savoury and astringent with hints of peppermint.
There are around 750 varieties of Salvia, however it is the garden sage that is of primary culinary importance. Clary sage is a sparser variety, little used these days, with foliage that is more rust-colored and has bluish-white to white flowers. Purple leaf sage is grown more for decorative purposes, as is a red flowering variety.
Another red-flowered sage is the aptly named pineapple sage and there is even a garlic sage with tall, yellow-white flower clusters and a rank, garlic aroma. Dried sage leaves retain the characteristic aroma and flavour of fresh sage so well, they seem just like a concentrated version. These are most often seen as 'rubbed' leaves, which are light-gray in color with a fluffy, springy texture.
Because sage plants become extremely woody after a few years, even with regular cutting back, they need to be replanted every three years. Layering is an efficient method of propagating sage, when a section of long, lateral stem, still growing from the plant, is bent down and buried in the soil a few centimeters deep. When roots have formed, it is cut away from the main plant and replanted. In Dalmaua, sage is gathered before flowering and hung in dark, well-aired places to dry. The stems are then rubbed to remove the leaves. Due to their high oil content and the fluffy structure of the leaf, even when properly dry to less than 12 per cent moisture, rubbed sage leaves will not feel as crisp as many other dried herbs.